What if I told you that Texas domestic violence laws don’t exist? Would you be shocked? Well, the truth is, they don’t; at least not in the way you might expect
It can be surprising to learn that the Texas Penal Code doesn’t include a crime of “Domestic Violence”. That doesn’t mean that domestic violence is legal — the crime is just called something else in Texas.
In this blog, I’ll explain everything you need to know about Texas domestic violence laws, what counts as domestic violence, and what crimes people who are accused of domestic violence are actually charged with.
What is Domestic Violence?
The term “domestic violence” is used to refer to acts of violence committed by one family or household member against another, or within a romantic relationship. Domestic violence cases can involve causing physical harm, but the term can also be used to refer to behavior that is controlling, coercive, or threatening, without any physical violence.
Who Can Be the Victim of Domestic Violence?
Under Texas law, domestic violence charges can only be filed if the offense was committed against specific categories of victims. In other words, whether an offense constitutes domestic violence or not depends on the victim’s relationship to the defendant.
Victims in domestic violence cases fall into three categories:
- Dating relationships (Texas Family Code § 71.0021(b))
- Family members (Texas Family Code § 71.003)
- Household members (Texas Family Code § 71.005)
The Texas Family Code defines a “dating relationship” as a relationship between people who have an ongoing relationship of a romantic or intimate nature. For domestic violence purposes, dating relationships also include people who have had an ongoing romantic or intimate relationship in the past that has since ended. However, a dating relationship does not include casual acquaintanceships or ordinary fraternizations in a business or social context.
To decide whether a relationship should legally be considered a dating relationship, prosecutors and judges will evaluate three factors:
- The length of the relationship.
- The nature of the relationship.
- The frequency and type of interaction between the persons involved in the relationship.
The dating relationships category of domestic violence victims is the least cut-and-dry of the three categories, especially because different parties in a relationship can often have a different perception of the nature or seriousness of a relationship.
Texas law defines “family” very broadly and includes most family relationships, even distant relations. Domestic violence charges can result when the alleged victim and the defendant have any of the following relationships:
- People related by consanguinity or affinity (by blood, adoption, or marriage)
- Former spouses
- People who are the parents of the same child, without regard to marriage
- Foster children and foster parents, without regard to whether those individuals reside together.
Consanguinity (By Blood)
The term “consanguinity” comes from a Latin word meaning “of the same blood”. People are related by consanguinity in either of the following situations:
- One person is a descendant of the other.
- They share a common ancestor.
For the purposes of consanguinity, adopted children are considered to be the children of their adoptive parents.
Affinity (By Marriage)
The word “affinity” also comes from a Latin word, which means “to border” or “related”. People are related by affinity under the following circumstances:
- They are married to each other.
- They were previously married to each other and a child of the marriage is still living.
- The spouse of one person is related by consanguinity to the other person.
Of the three categories of potential domestic violence victims, the definition of household members is by far the simplest. People are considered members of the same household if they are living together in the same dwelling, regardless of whether they are related to each other. End of definition.
Types of Domestic Violence Offenses
In Texas, you can be charged for domestic violence offenses through three different statutes:
- Aggravated Assault
- Continuous Violence Against the Family
Continuous violence against the family is specifically a domestic violence crime, but the other two statutes can be used to prosecute both domestic and non-domestic offenses.
You can be charged with assault if you do any of the following:
- Cause bodily injury to another person.
- Threaten another person with imminent bodily injury.
- Cause non-violent physical contact with another person that is offensive or provocative.
An assault is considered a domestic assault if it is committed within a dating relationship or between family or household members. However, domestic assault is not a separate offense and is prosecuted under the assault statute.
Domestic assault charges can be classified as any of the following, depending on the circumstances of the situation:
- Class C misdemeanor.
- Class A misdemeanor.
- Third degree felony.
- Second degree felony.
Domestic assault involving bodily harm is a third degree felony if either the defendant has a previous domestic violence conviction or if the current offense involved suffocation, strangulation, or choking.
It can also be charged as a second degree felony if the defendant has a previous domestic violence conviction AND the current offense involved suffocation, strangulation, or choking.
Aggravated assault is exactly what it sounds like — a more serious type of assault. You can be charged with aggravated assault if, while committing an assault as defined in the section above, you do either of the following:
- Cause serious bodily injury.
- Use or exhibit a deadly weapon.
Just like domestic assault, aggravated domestic assault is not a separate offense and is prosecuted through the aggravated assault statute. Aggravated domestic assault is typically a second degree felony. However, if the defendant uses or exhibits a deadly weapon AND causes serious bodily injury during an assault within a dating relationship or against a family or household member, it is a first degree felony.
Continuous Violence Against the Family
Unlike domestic assault and aggravated domestic assault, continuous violence against the family is a purely domestic violence offense. Continuous violence against the family is a third degree felony, and you can be charged if you commit at least two acts of domestic assault causing bodily injury within 12 months.